(Photos courtesy of Marc Serota)
In my 25-plus years as a photo journalist, I’ve covered over a dozen NFL Super Bowls, but this particular story about Peyton Manning is one of my favorites. It’s a story about firsts, for Manning, Dungy, and the Indianapolis Colts.
I’ve seen some great Super Bowl victories, and the legendary quarterbacks who played in them, up close and personal. From Joe Montana and Brett Favre to John Elway, Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, and Tom Brady, these quarterbacks won memorable games. But for me, one of the greatest moments in my professional sports photography life was capturing Peyton Manning win his first Super Bowl ring.
I covered Manning during his entire illustrious career and had the opportunity to photograph him at least once a season, since the Colts were in the same division as the Miami Dolphins for much of Manning’s career. Living in Miami created those great opportunities to cover the likes of Manning and Brady.
Manning, who is now known to most young people as “that old quarterback who does great television commercials,” is undoubtedly one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, and an all-around good guy! He comes from a football family, with his dad Archie Manning and brother Eli Manning both outstanding NFL quarterbacks.
In addition to taking the Colts to the Super Bowl for the first time in 36 years, Peyton Manning helped the Colts win 8 Division championships and 2 AFC championships. When Manning was on the field he couldn’t be stopped when it came to scoring points (much like Patrick Mahomes), and you have to be able to outscore the other guys in order to have any chance of winning.
That’s what the Chicago Bears could not do in Super Bowl XLI, losing 29-17 to the Indianapolis Colts. Manning and the Indianapolis Colts made their first Super Bowl appearance since 1970 (when they were still the Baltimore Colts) on February 4, 2007, putting up 29 points against a highly touted Chicago’s Bears defense during a driving rain storm in Miami Gardens, Florida.
History had been made, and, as it happened, it was the first and only opportunity to win a Super Bowl for head coach Tony Dungy. He was widely regarded as one of the best coaches to ever take the field. Dungy, along with the head coach of the Chicago Bears, Lovie Smith, became the first African-American head coaches to reach the Super Bowl, with Dungy winning it all. The Colts also had players like Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Edgerin James, all of which are either in the Hall of Fame or should be in the Hall of Fame someday.
The experience of that Super Bowl for me and everyone watching was almost surreal. The halftime show became a music video as legendary performer Prince took the stage.
The field conditions were terrible. A driving rainstorm fell for most of the game and during the halftime show, just as Prince began to sing one of his most famous songs, “Purple Rain,” the rain stopped! Now, it stopped for just for a couple of minutes, but I believe it was an indicator that destiny would soon manifest itself and Manning would get his ring.
After the final seconds of the game ticked off the clock, Peyton Manning, alongside Tony Dungy and his Colts teammates, hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. Manning was named the Super Bowl XLI MVP. That sealed Manning’s legacy in the annals of the National Football League. He went on to win Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos in 2016 along with multiple other awards.
I guess it’s true that the good guys can win.